European businesses fail to see how digital solutions improve sustainability

Only a third of leaders view technology as an enabler of more sustainable business practices, despite pressure to improve ESG performance.

Research released by Ricoh Europe reveals the majority of organisations in Europe (56%) struggle to invest in environmental sustainability because other business needs are perceived to be more urgent. Businesses continue to fund digital transformation, with 67% increasing or maintaining their level of investment in this area, but most fail to see how improving technology can also have positive ESG outcomes.

The research conducted by Opinion Matters polled 1,500 decision makers across Europe. More than two thirds (67%) of business leaders believe that corporations have a responsibility to respond proactively to global challenges such as climate change.

These findings suggest that European businesses are feeling the pressure from investors, customers and governments to improve their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) performance in the wake of the pandemic. Additional research conducted by Ricoh Europe found 60% of employees expect their employer to play a role in solving societal issues. Meanwhile, the European Union is spearheading a global drive with a range of regulations and initiatives such as the European Green Deal and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive that will require organisations with over 500 employees to disclose their non-financial information.

Despite bosses’ awareness that they need to do more, only 24% of organisations have increased investment in sustainability over the course of the pandemic – highlighting the challenging business environment they operate in.

Digital transformation can help organisations improve their ESG performance, as well as collect the data required to measure it effectively. Yet only 34% of leaders see technology as an enabler of sustainable business practices. The majority (71%) don’t believe digital transformation can help them achieve their company’s long term sustainability goals.

In fact, leaders view improvements to IT infrastructure as the least useful way for a company to reduce its long-term impact on the environment. However, nearly half of all organisations have introduced cloud technology (45%), hybrid working (45%), and big data (42%) solutions – all of which improve energy efficiency, better capture and provide data relevant for ESG reporting, and help companies work together on issues of a global scale.

David Mills, CEO, Ricoh Europe, says: “While businesses know they need to do more to improve ESG performance and reporting, securing resources to achieve this is harder than ever. And with many new legislative requirements still in draft form, it can be difficult to know which investments to make. It’s important to remember that business success and ESG success don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Digital transformation is one area leaders should feel confident investing in because there’s a lot of overlap with business and ESG outcomes. Not only does it help to improve operational efficiencies and environmental outcomes, it future-proofs the business. Ultimately, it increases the capacity to collect and analyse data, which will be vital as new reporting requirements come into effect.”

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